Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Word of the Day: Paraffin Test

context: It’s 1968, Mexico City. The university students, like university students all over the world during this year, are demanding greater freedom and respect. The repressive national government, naturally, would prefer not to, and have been sending out paramilitary riot police to beat, arrest, and even shoot young people, usually at night when the biggest crowds have dispersed.

President Diaz Ordaz, in a speech from the city of Guadalajara, tendered his famous “outstretched hand” to the students in exchange for their submission. An outstretched hand — if you apologize.

The imaginative riposte appeared the next day on thousands of handbills and flyposters: A la mano tendida, la prueba de la parafina (Give the outstretched hand the paraffin test).

definition (courtesy the Oxford English Dictionary online):
[probably after American Spanish; use of the test in Mexico City is reported from 1931] a forensic test to indicate whether a person has recently fired a gun, in which the person's hand is coated in hot paraffin wax which cools and sets and is peeled off and tested for the presence of residue from the gun.

source: ’68 a memoir by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith

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